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A battle between two repmobiles


I REMEMBER the exact moment when I learned the value of the saying ‘you get what you pay for.’

It happened a long time ago while I was on holiday in Port Elizabeth with my family.

My dad gave me some pocket money and I decided to spend it on an Action Man figurine. At the local toy store, I found the one I wanted, but it was too expensive and would have left me with almost no money for anything else.

A few days later I saw an almost exact copy of Action Man in one of those bargain-basement retail stores. This one was called Hero Man, but that mattered little to me. Hero Man was less than half the price of Action Man. I could buy him and still have enough money left to buy a bag of sweets bigger than my head.

Unfortunately, the reason for Hero Man’s cheapness became apparent soon after taking him out of his box. He had a fierce battle with one of my old GI Joe figurines and it cost him a leg. My dad stuck it back on with superglue, but it just wasn’t the same.

I got that same feeling when I first drove the Geely Emgrand EC7. It has four wheels and an engine, so in many ways it’s exactly like its competitors, which are a lot more expensive. But I could not shake this dreadful feeling that, at some point, I would be left disappointed and would know exactly why the Emgrand is so much cheaper than its competitors. Basically, I was waiting for its leg to fall off.

I’ll admit that I’ve been quite nasty about the Emgrand recently and in many ways it doesn’t deserve the abuse. It’s leg didn’t fall off and at the end of the day it’s basically just a car that does a perfectly adequate job of getting you to the office and back. I’ll also admit that it is generously equipped, comfortable and relatively nice to own on a day-to-day basis. The biggest reason for buying it though, is space. This is the biggest car you can buy for R160 000.

Or is it? A month ago that answer was yes, but now Nissan has rained all over Geely’s parade by launching the new Almera. It costs R165 000 and offers almost as much space as the Emgrand.

I’ve checked the measurements on both cars and the Geely is the winner in every direction. It’s longer, wider and has a bigger boot. The Almera has more headroom, but that’s just about it. Not that it matters anyway, because the difference as measured in millimetres is so small that the Emgrand isn’t noticeably bigger. Both cars have cavernous interiors, large enough to house a family of five and their luggage.

The differences in powertrains are rather more obvious though. The Emgrand has a 1.8-litre four cylinder with 102kW and 172Nm on tap, mated to a five-speed manual. It’s a noisy engine, but it is powerful and more than adequate for the job it’s assigned to.

The Almera has to make do with a 1.5-litre four cylinder that develops a meagre 73kW and 134Nm of torque. It does, however, have a smooth five-speed manual gearbox, which makes the job of getting it up to speed a lot easier than you’d expect.

The biggest and most important difference to me is the feel of the interior. The Almera is no overachiever in this department, but it feels a lot sturdier than the Emgrand. Geely gives you more kit as standard, but it’s not like you’re left wanting in the Almera. What does annoy me is the lack of a USB port in the Nissan. It’s a disappointing omission from a respected company that should know better.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Nissan is the better car out of the two. The Geely has its merits, but the Nissan offers a better deal at the price. Yes, the Geely is R5 000 less, but it doesn’t have a service plan as standard. It’s an optional extra, which Nissan gives you as standard. On the other hand, the Almera isn’t as spacious as the Geely and if you do need those extra few millimetres, a Nissan Sentra is a far better match. It costs around R50 000 more than the Emgrand, which shows you how much of a bargain the Chinese car really is.

I wasn’t expecting to like the Almera as much as I did. The first time I laid eyes on the brown monstrosity parked outside the office, I couldn’t help but make a joke at its expense.

I ended up enjoying it more than I was expecting, because it’s an honest car that does exactly what it says on the box. It’s a repmobile built to be as comfortable as possible, as cheaply as possible. It’s a good car that I’d happily recommend to anyone shopping around in this segment.

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